Ever wondered about the words alone and lonely? I have been fascinated by them for many years. In fact the words have provided me hours of rumination. I like being alone but am never lonely when I am by myself. Actually it is not as contradictory as it sounds.
Alone is a physical condition while lonely is a mental one. We can be lonely in the company of others, in a group or even in a crowd, but we need not necessarily be lonely when we are alone. It is how we relate to others that makes us either lonely or otherwise. If that were so, how can I be alone and not lonely? Well, it is elementary. I am not lonely because I have company to keep me engaged – my own!
Get the drift? If you want others to enjoy being with you, you should know how to enjoy being with yourself. Look at it this way: If I can’t stand myself, how can I expect others to? So when people ask me whether I don’t get lonely when I am alone at home, especially with the brats having homes of their own and the L&M travelling on work, I can only feel amused. There are so many things I can do through the day – not all chores — that I sometimes am short of time! So where is the question of being lonely? This is not to say that I don’t enjoy having people around me. I love that too. But from time to time I need to be with myself, to connect with myself. Sometimes I need to be physically alone to achieve this state, but it is not always necessary. I can even snatch moments for myself in a day packed with other people and activities. The trick is to remember to do this when I am not angry or upset, because at such times, I don’t relate to myself in a positive way.
I remember my mother advising us not to continuously lift or play with infants and babies in the family lest they start demanding constant attention as they grow. While it is not safe to leave them out of sight for any length of time, one can still keep an eye on them being in the same room, talking to them and letting them see one around. That effectively prevents them from getting scared or doing something dangerous when left unsupervised. I am sure she must have followed this rule while we were growing up because all of us siblings are happy being by ourselves if need be. By contrast when the older one was a child, my mother-in-law would feel sorry him for playing alone, (though he was quite happy doing it). I would have to assure her that he was fine and that she should leave him alone for a while, much to her chagrin! Today I am glad that both the boys enjoy their own company as much as they do that of their dear ones and friends.
I have seen people getting restless when they are alone – not due to any insecurity or fear of being alone, but because they cannot function when they are not with others. And when such people are forced to be alone, they can go to pieces or into depression. This includes the old and the young and even the very young. But when someone wants company 24×7, it sort of gets a little claustrophobic for the companion. Her I should mention that some actually prefer being alone to being in the company of others but it could be because they don’t like being around people. This post is not about such people.
This ability is as necessary when one is young as when one gets old. However when one is really old and is need of attention, they need supervision too – just like the infants and babies who need to be reassured that they are not alone. This is both an emotional and a security need. Unfortunately we can see this kind of neglect today in many houses where both small children and old people are the victims. Why don’t we take relationships seriously and give them the kind of attention they deserve, including the one we have with ourselves?
I am often asked as to how I feel about the younger one going on long solo bike trips. As a parent I do worry about his safety while on the highways but being someone who loves to be alone periodically, I can fully understand and appreciate his need for such breaks. In fact, I envy him the ability to take off like that! The only thing I ask him is to keep me posted about his whereabouts.
The joys of doing something solo has to be experienced and not recounted. It is very personal, something that can touch one deeply and leave a wonderful and lasting impression. Like the time I spent in Rishikesh some years ago – alone but in a crowd. I felt like a drop of water on a lotus leaf, there, but not stuck to it. I talked to the pilgrims and those who came on a holiday, the shopkeepers and all the others with whom I interacted through the day. But I was alone with myself. No one knew anything about me and the offices of the ashram had other details like my name and address – but that was about it. I never for a moment felt lonely, for I had designated the time for myself and reveled in it. I ate when I felt hungry, slept when I was sleepy and the rest of the time sat by the river or in the temple. A complete disconnect from my normal world. At the end of it, I had become calmer, someone who could see things in a different perspective, more tolerant and generally able to deal with things more firmly – in short, a better person. This is what they accomplish in retreats and meditation camps don’t they?
And since I am comfortable in my own company, I enjoy the company of others – a lot! On that note, I say goodbye to 2011, this being the last post of this year, where I have pulled out all stops to nag the hell out of you all!
HAVE A GREAT NEW YEAR FOLKS!